29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent by Carole Blake

This post originally appeared on Lucy Hay's Bang2Write blog and continues to be once of her most visited pages! Here's what Lucy says: 

Many thanks to Carole Blake from the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency for providing a VERY comprehensive list on how NOT to submit to an agent. This is a fab list and  I have actually had a number 27 myself!! Maybe it was the same lady? 

1. No gimmicks. Don’t send food, flowers – or anything else. Food goes straight into the bin … just in case. I’ve read lots of crime fiction.

I once received a large parcel that weighed almost nothing. Inside was a rubbish bin and a letter saying the writer assumed the submission would end up there so was sending me one to speed up the process. The partial for a crime novel that was attached looked rather good. I left the bin, letter & ms on my desk. Next morning our office cleaner had removed the contents and put the rubbish bin neatly next to my desk. There was no way to contact the author despite a story on our website and some tweets … That was the end of that.

2. Your own cover design. They almost always look very amateur. A publisher will produce a professional design that takes account of the current market. Even thinking that they might take your design marks you out as amateur.

3. Any kind of jokey letter making fun of the publishing business – I bet this won’t get read etc. In the cold morning light of a busy office – not funny. See no 1.

4. Don’t trash other authors – they might be my clients

5. Don’t send a first draft. Let it sit for some weeks after finishing. Then read & revise. Better to do that before you get a rejection.

6. Don’t keep sending further corrected versions. Revise first & let it sit before submitting.

7. Don’t send again once rejected, unless I’ve invited you to.

8. Don’t send in overly elaborate packaging. I am thinking of a full manuscript, in a lever arch file (duh!) wrapped first in plastic film, then in 2 layers of corrugated cardboard, then brown paper sellotaped around the ENTIRE package. Then in more brown paper. By the time my office had fought our way in to it I hated it already. See no 24.

9. Don’t mark it “private & confidential”. It’s not: it’s a business transaction. I don’t want to come back from a trip abroad to find an unopened unsolicited manuscript on my desk.

10. Don’t make spelling mistakes in the covering email or letter. Or the ms. And don’t rely on spellchecker: read it all the way through several times. See 5 and 6 above.

11. Don’t write the covering letter or email in the voice of one of your characters. I recently received a letter written in the voice of a gorilla. It’s annoying.

12.Don’t send 3 mss with one submission, all in different genres – it shows you’re not thinking about the market and how it works.

13. Don’t have a silly email address. I recently had a submission from someone whose email address was ‘blahblah’. And don’t share an email address with your spouse. This is business correspondence: you need to look professional. Your own email address costs nothing.

14. Don’t say you’re sending your ‘fiction novel’. If you don’t know how to use language, you shouldn’t be writing a book.

15. Don’t write to me abusively after I’ve rejected your ms. Publishing is a small world. And bad manners won’t make me want to work with you. See attached, from an author complaining that we won’t take his work which is in a genre our website makes it clear we don’t work with.

16. Don’t say you’ve read my book from cover to cover and then proceed to offer me a manuscript in a genre I’ve clearly stated I don’t work with.

17. Don’t send your ms in a fancy font, difficult to read. Keep it simple.

18. Don’t email with a peculiar colour background. Keep it simple.

19. Don’t openly email 50 agents at once (I’ve had them!), with all the email addresses shown. At least try to pretend you’ve selected me because you think we would make a perfect team.

20. Don’t tell me you’ve been recommended by a friend of mine and then mention someone I’ve never heard of.

21. Don’t compare your own writing to literary greats: it will only provoke me to disagree. Modesty is more attractive, and allows me to form my own opinion.

22. Don’t plead for individual feedback once I’ve rejected your ms. I received 1000s of submissions a year: there just isn’t time. And I do have to spend some time working for the authors I do actually represent.

23. Don’t tell me your family and friends love your ms. They love you: they are biased.

24. Don’t send me a paper ms. Not any more. See no 25.

25. This perhaps ought to be No 1: do NOT submit to me until you have checked out our agency website and read the submission guidelines. Do NOT. Just do NOT. It’s in your own interest.

26. Do NOT pitch your novel to me at breakfast during a writers festival. If I have to explain why, you may not have read the previous 25 points properly

27. Do NOT slip your synopsis under the door of the ladies loo I am occupying. It happened. Once. I suspect that woman will never do it again.

28. If we are chatting at a cocktail party and you have pitched me your novel, and I say, ‘I can’t take in verbal pitches, I need to read storylines, but please do send it to me.’ do not – under any circumstances – tell me the story all over again. And then do the same thing at the next 3 parties we both attend. This happened to me. I will never knowingly occupy the same room as that novelist ever again.

29. Do NOT submit to me on Facebook or Twitter. Chat, yes. Become friends perhaps: but social media is social. It’s not for stalking or submitting. I block people for doing that.

Why 29? Because if I don’t stop there I might go on forever, instancing all the time-wasting submissions I’ve seen over the years. But – you know what? I still get a tingle when I open new submissions … there is sometimes gold in those emailed submissions mountains!

And here’s one of those offending cover letters …

Liz Fenwick’s writing tips #Romance14

This blog post originally appeared on the Romance Festival website. The Romance Festival is an online literary festival which took place between the 7th & 8th of June 2014 and allowed people to meet their favourite romantic fiction authors, chat to other readers and writers, and get the lowdown on the best in romance, all without leaving the comfort of their own homes! You can follow the Romance Festival on Twitter here.

Liz Fenwick’s Writing Tips:

  1. Have a hero with whom you can fall in love. I have to love the hero, if I don't how can I expect my heroine or reader to?
  2. Think conflict…that’s what makes the reader turn the page. Conflict is shouting, it’s when characters have different goals or what they need is different from what they want.
  3. Try to write something every day but accept that sometimes this isn't possible. Do not beat yourself up…sometimes the laundry does come first and so does dinner (except when a deadlines is approaching!)
  4. As writers we have strengths and weaknesses. Take time to improve your weakest areas until they shine as much as your strengths. Never stop learning your craft.
  5. In twenty minutes a day you can write a novel in a year. Five minutes free…a scene can appear. Any spare time can be used. Grab them. My writing time is always disturbed by family and travel, but I embrace this rather than resent it. I do my best writing when I'm stuck on a plane or a train.
  6. Listen to your work. I use text to voice software so that the computer reads it to me. This gives you separation from your work and makes editing easier.
  7. Writer’s Block – egg timer. Set it for twenty minutes and say you will only write for that time and it doesn't matter what you write. It works!
  8. Read, read, read. Read not just in your own genre, read the best sellers, read literary, read history, read biography, read magazines and the news papers. They all tell stories- just in slightly different ways. From this reading you will learn what works and what doesn’t. You will read books that you wished you wrote (and when you do – analyze to see why you felt that way then discover how you can make your writing better). You will read books and wonder what others saw in it - then analyze it. Fill your writing ‘well’ from the women’s magazines and the latest news.
  9. Be kind to yourself. No book is ever perfect…even the ones we hold up as perfect. Your first draft is for you only, possibly the second and the third too. Writing a book is not a race. Take a breath and enjoy the journey. Accept criticism. Develop your inner critic but contain it as well. Learn to trust yourself.

Liz’s latest book is A Cornish Stranger. You can find her on Twitter here.

Team Stockwin and The Silk Tree

Julian Stockwin is the author of the Kydd Naval series and his latest novel, THE SILK TREE, will be published in late 2014 by Allison & Busby and is now available for preorder here. Julian's partner, Kathy, has become an integral part of the writing process. Below, the author explains the creative development behind THE SILK TREE, where planning and research are the essential ingredients for a compelling story and great writing. 

Team Stockwin!

Team Stockwin!

THE SILK TREE is a new departure for me, a stand-alone historical adventure fiction that is not maritime at its heart.  Its genesis was my wife Kathy’s discovery of a rather lovely silk scarf in the ancient Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul during a recent research trip to Turkey.  While she was chatting with the merchant I idly wondered just how silk had been brought from China to the West. Intrigued, I did some research and the creative juices started flowing – I knew I had a story I had to tell.

So we got to work, drafting up a list of topics to investigate; a very pleasant task over a meze of various delicious morsels – then on to kepab – all in the name of research, of course...

As usual, local museums and libraries were a major resource. I always travel with a small pocket dictaphone and a compact camera that can take high-quality images of textual material. At the end of the day it’s our strict rule to go through the photos and notate each one. I also transcribe the notes I took verbally and Kathy and I work up any changes to our itinerary as a result of the day’s research.

Of all the iconic architecture in modern Istanbul, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace are the most memorable.  At the time of THE SILK TREE the former was a Christian shrine but Topkapi was yet to be built. Part of the task of a writer of historical fiction is to recreate city landscapes of the past in his mind’s eye and for THE SILK TREE this meant  sixth century Constantinople (as it was called then).

Back in the UK Kathy and I flow-charted the basic story on a large white board that we find invaluable at this stage.  Then we had a number of sessions working up the personalities of the main characters, Nicander and Marius. Once this was done we developed sub-plots around the main story – the quest for the secret of silk. Kathy thought we should have a love story element in the book and we had to find a way to bring two people of very different cultures to mutual respect then a deep attraction. But I don’t want to give the game away as to how this happened...

I’m a firm believer in the old saying that no life experience is wasted for the writer and for THE SILK TREE I was able to call upon my admiration of Chinese calligraphy which goes back to the time I lived and worked in the Far East. And all those hours of dry study of ancient Greek and Latin at grammar school came in handy, too!

When we were satisfied with our planning for THE SILK TREE a detailed synopsis was created, and I wrote the first three chapters, which I sent off to Carole Blake. She loved the idea and I then set out to write the rest of the book.

Kathy is a very integral part of my writing process. Once we have agreed on a strong beginning and a satisfying end, along with the thrust of the middle of the book, we walk and talk segments, making sure the right elements of tension, stakes, detail etc. are there before I write.

Kathy is also my live-in ‘blue pencil’, fine-tuning my writing with her very considerable editing skills as I go along. At the end of the process she does what she calls her helicopter editing, looking at the work as a whole.  Then we both go through the manuscript very, very carefully a number of times before it’s ready to submit.

I realise I am very privileged to be able to earn my living as a full-time writer – and to be able to work so closely with my life partner in this is a wonderful thing indeed!

The Anatolian Plateau, the last stage for the great camel caravans of the Silk Road.

The Anatolian Plateau, the last stage for the great camel caravans of the Silk Road.

Hagia Sophia at dusk

Hagia Sophia at dusk


Carole Blake at ChipLitFest: Pitch the Agent

Originally published as a blog post by Emma Lee-Potter, author of three novels, a children’s book and five novellas. She has been a Costa Book Awards judge, has driven across the equator in a Land Rover and interviewed Richard Branson 40 thousand feet above the Atlantic! Emma writes about news, education, books and family and you can visit her website here: http://www.emmaleepotter.com/.

Carole Blake is the doyenne of literary agents. She has worked in publishing for 50 years, started her own literary agency in 1977 and has a star-studded list of clients that includes the likes of Peter James, Barbara Erskine and Sheila O'Flanagan.

She’s also the author of From Pitch to Publication: Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Novel Published, a must-read for writers. Carole is currently writing an updated version, due out in 2015.

At this year’s Chipping Norton Literary Festival Carole teamed up with Wannabe a Writer author Jane Wenham-Jones to present a literary-style Dragons’ Den event. The session was entitled 'Wannabe a Writer – Pitch the Agent' and challenged aspiring writers to submit 1,000 words of their novels for Carole to critique. Five brave individuals were shortlisted and Carole gave her verdict in front of a live audience.

Carole is second to none when it comes to giving advice and guidance to authors and the audience scribbled feverishly as she spoke. Writers agonise about their synopses when submitting work to agents but Carole said that she always reads the chapters first “to find out if someone can write.” She emphasised, however, that a synopsis must include the ending of the novel.

As she talked about the shortlisted writers’ work a host of dos and don'ts emerged along the way. Here are some of them:

  •  “If you are a genius you can break all the rules but be sure that you are a genius before you break them”
  • Beware of using coincidence as a key part of your plot
  • “We don’t necessarily need a shining, sparkling hero but we need to admire him rather than think he’s a twerp”
  • “You need a bit more drama and a bit less melodrama”
  • “Characters are more important than plot”
  • “If you try to please too many people you will end up with something that doesn't appeal to anybody at all”

The session ended with Jane asking Carole for one key “nugget of wisdom to take away.” Carole, who receives up to 25 submissions from writers a day (including Saturdays, Sundays and even Christmas Day) didn't hesitate. Do your homework, she said, pointing to the wealth of information on literary agents’ websites about what they are looking for. Carole herself takes on few new clients these days but states on the Blake Friedmann website that she is interested in “good quality commercial and literary fiction, contemporary or historical.” The guidance couldn't be clearer yet writers still persist in sending her everything, from children’s books to science fiction.

“Given how easy it is to find out information these days do a lot of homework first,” she said. “There is nothing more guaranteed to get a fast rejection than if you enrage the agent.”

Emma's latest book, LOVE AND LAUGHTER, was published in November 2013 and is available here